Holding Polluters Accountable in Louisiana
Louisiana’s long history of oil refinery accidents and high levels of air & water pollution have taken a toll on public health like no other. Communities of color are especially impacted by this pollution, with refineries and plants disproportionately located in low-income, black, and brown communities. Inspired by people in Nigeria who stood up to the devastation of oil production, the LA Bucket Brigade says, “The same companies are abusing our environment and our people in both places and, indeed, around the world.” But people are fighting back for the right to clean air, and they are winning.
The LA Bucket Brigade’s work in Louisiana is an example of the power of grassroots groups using innovative tactics to win this battle. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is an organization set up to support grassroots action to create informed, sustainable neighborhoods free from industrial pollution. Matthew Kern, Canvass Director at the LA Bucket Brigade, talked with us about the ways in which people on the ground are holding refineries accountable across the state.
In Louisiana alone, there are 17 refineries, including the 3rd largest oil refinery in the whole world, belonging to Exxon Mobil in East Baton Rouge and surrounded by 14 refineries in this region. It is here that a community group that the LA Bucket Brigade supports, Citizens Empowerment for Change, is working to protect their health from the nearby plant. Through a letter-writing campaign, they are increasing public pressure on the refinery to clean up its act, and giving residents an opportunity to express their frustrations as well as engage in dialogue with refinery workers.
The group is small but strong, with 3-5 highly motivated members and efforts being led by Mama Seabell, a woman living on the border of the buffer zone to the Exxon Mobil plant. Living so close to the plant has given her credibility and a greater understanding of what is at stake for her community. From cancer to respiratory illnesses, people living in this vicinity are faced with a host of health consequences as a result of pollution.
Residents use a variety of tactics to gain support, from holding public demonstrations, to talking with managers and union employees. They also use street science to equip themselves with knowledge about levels of pollution and its impacts in the neighborhood. The bucket is an important air monitoring tool because its simple, EPA-approved, and can be used in court settlements. However, these residents have upgraded to live airtime monitors! Minute by minute, they measure levels of sulfur dioxide and other chemicals in the air which are then sent to a nearby University for testing and later used as collateral for stronger enforcement of pollution controls.
Another powerful tool, the Chemical Accidents Crisis Map, allows residents to expose what’s really coming out of the refineries through taking photos. The online map makes the data transparent for anyone to access and use as a basis for taking action!
Although the burden of proof should never be placed on the people affected, too often it is. In the meantime, LA Bucket Brigade shows us that people can equip themselves with easy tools that anyone can use to hold refineries accountable in their neighborhoods. Equally important to gathering data is building support – knocking on doors, setting up public forums, educational hand-outs, and relationship-building with neighbors and workers is key to winning the fight for clean air.
Are you concerned about air quality in your community? Here are some ways you can take concrete action.
Also check Green the Block's educational resources to start educating your block about air quality!
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